Susan Little, the southeast curriculum specialist for Handwriting Without Tears, said when Georgia adopted the Common Core Standards it elected to include cursive writing in its performance standards for third and fourth grade.
“Quite honestly, because it’s a standard, teachers have to do it. If it wasn’t in the standards, and teachers and principals thought that teaching it took an exorbitant amount of time then it might get pushed to the side,” Little said.
Handwriting Without Tears is a program adopted by the Georgia Department of Education that uses hands-on learning to teach writing in the classroom. In addition to handwriting, the program also offers cursive instruction for grades 3-5.
However, some teachers such as Angela Gabriel feel cursive has become more of an afterthought as students get older and are introduced to newer technologies. Gabriel, who teaches at College Heights Early Learning Center in Decatur, said she thinks cursive is being thought of more as an art form than a useful skill.
“I think if you’re a 21-year-old and you’re still printing everything and you’re trying to convey a message to somebody, it doesn’t have that same quality to it if it isn’t in longhand,” Gabriel said. “I also think, even more importantly, ‘How are you going to sign your check?’”
Little echoed Gabriel and said regardless of technology, students still need to be able to sign checks or fill out job applications, and cursive streamlines that process.
“There is a time and a place for technology but we know with early literacy development there is a link between reading and writing. We also know that cursive helps their cognitive ability,” Little said.
In both City Schools of Decatur and the DeKalb County School System, cursive is part of the curriculum until fifth grade. Both systems use the Handwriting Without Tears program.
“It is very important that students have both handwriting skills as well as 21st century technology skills to communicate for various purposes and with different audiences,” DeKalb Schools spokeswoman Joye Burton said.
However, College Heights’ Instructional Coach Zeke Alejandro said focus has moved away from teaching cursive. Teaching students how to form letters and have the proper hand development is still important, he said. Cursive is still an important learning tool that shouldn’t be put aside, Alejandro said, as schools introduce new technologies into the curriculum they use.
Alejandro previously worked at Midway Elementary School in the DeKalb County School System where he taught cursive from pre-K through third grade. He said with cursive a student is more likely to follow through and understand a thought because he or she doesn’t pick up the pencil until the end of a word.
College Heights, a City Schools of Decatur school, is one of the only public schools in Georgia that offers early childhood learning, from six months through pre-kindergarten, and Alejandro said handwriting is important at such an early age.
“A lot of what we focus on is the strokes that make each letter,” Alejandro said.
Both Alejandro and Gabriel, who teaches pre-K, said there is still some writing done with pencil and paper in her class but the main focus is on motor skills development.
“It goes past handwriting—it’s how you hold your utensils when you’re eating and how to lace shoes and clothing,” Gabriel said. “Now we’re giving kids the opportunity to explore each letter and to understand them.”